Summer jobs: A stepping stone for tomorrow’s workforce

It may only be April, but employers across Michigan have started the hiring process for what is — for many teens — a rite of passage.

The summer job.

Whether lifeguarding at a pool or taking orders at a local diner, summer jobs offer our younger citizens the opportunity to earn an income and gain invaluable real-world experience.

Last year, approximately 282,300 teens set out to secure some sort of summer employment within the state. And according to the Michigan Department of Technology, Management & Budget, about 82.5 percent went on to do so.

The good news is this points to a declining summer unemployment forecast of 17.5 percent in 2016 for youth ages 16 to 19. This is down from 18.7 percent in 2015. The notso good news is it means there were about 50,000 teens who wanted a job but didn’t get one.

This presents a challenge and an opportunity for Genesee County’s business community. And the Flint & Genesee Chamber is poised to help.

At a time when a growing talent gap threatens our economic progress — locally, regionally, statewide and beyond — it’s critical that we create a climate that fosters a skilled talent base. And we strongly believe that it starts by preparing the workforce of tomorrow, today.

This is why the Chamber is collaborating with local employers, workforce development agencies, and colleges and universities to strengthen the pool of summer and regular jobs for teens. Take, for example, our TeenQuest and Summer Youth Initiative (SYI) programs. They’re all about job preparation for teens. Nearly 600 were hired through SYI in 2016 alone.

To participate in SYI, students must first complete TeenQuest, a pre-employment and leadership training program available to all high school students in Genesee County. It focuses on what it takes to get – and to keep – a job.

By the time TeenQuest graduates sit down with employers, they have a strong handshake, maintain good eye contact and are prepared to answer interview questions. And as employers quickly find in the workplace, these students are well versed in key soft skills such as business etiquette, goal-setting and work ethic.

These programs go far beyond providing first-job experiences; they prepare students to excel at work and in school, all while building a competitive talent pool for Genesee County.

By 2020, we envision helping more than 1,000 teens secure employment every summer. But there’s a lot of work to be done before this happens.

We’re challenging the business community to rally around this cause and hire a teen or two this year. We’re calling upon all Genesee County schools to host TeenQuest after school or as part of the school day. And we’re encouraging area high school students to take advantage of this free programming.

Together, we can strengthen Genesee County’s talent pool – one teen at a time.

Learn more at

Elizabeth Murphy is a Group Vice President at the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce.

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